Unusual efforts between the UK Home Office and the Greek government have allowed a flight on Monday 10th May 2020 from Athens carrying 47 migrants, including several minors, to go ahead in order to reunite the passengers with their families in the UK. During a time of government restrictions related to COVID-19, many such flights and therefore family reunification have been suspended across Europe as borders closed. Trust grantee Safe Passage have worked with UK-based refugee families in collaboration with the UK and Greek governments to allow for this, after direct flights between Greece and the UK were suspended in March. In April 2020, the UK Home Office was criticised for refusing to take unaccompanied minors from overcrowded camps.
Many of the individuals on the flight, some from Syria, Somalia, Kuwait and Afghanistan, had been living for months in overcrowded and unsanitary refugee camps on the Greek islands. Safe Passage have reported that many have experienced “severe ill-health” and have been in Greece for spans of several months or years. The families are travelling on the return leg of a repatriation flight that is bringing Greeks stranded in the UK home.
Eirini Agapidaki, Greek special secretary for the protection of unaccompanied minors, said: “It’s the collaborative teamwork that allows us to be effective in times of corona restrictions […] a legacy that we need to sustain not just at national but also at the EU level.”
The CEO of Safe Passage, Beth Gardiner-Smith, said: “The UK and Greek governments have shown real leadership in reuniting these families despite the travel difficulties and we now urge the UK and other countries across Europe to continue these efforts to ensure no one is left behind.”
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